How Can I Best Support a Switch Student Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired? - Life.Church Leaders

How Can I Best Support a Switch Student Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired?

Hello, Switch Support Leader. My name is Abigail. I’m a few years out of high school now, but I can still vividly remember my first night at Switch. I wasn’t really into the whole “church thing,” and I had only gone because my mom told me I had to. It helped that I had a few friends I was meeting there, but it didn’t take away the nerves I felt as I walked in the doors for the first time.

When I got there, I checked in, put on my name tag, and began wandering around. The lobby music was cranked up, and I could feel the beat throughout my bones. The leaders were high-energy (which I would soon grow to love).

But I was overwhelmed.

My friends still hadn’t shown up yet, and I was beginning to think that I needed to leave. I was uncomfortable and needed fresh air. So I made my way to the door, just as my friends walked in. I remember feeling trapped; there was no way I could leave now. So my friends got checked in and then we went and hung out by the wall, as separated from the chaos as possible. One of the Switch leaders came up to us as we were talking and joined our conversation. Over the next several minutes, I could feel myself loosening and feeling a sense of peace.

As we made our way into the auditorium for worship, I was hit with another round of chaos. Many of the leaders were lined up giving high fives to everyone as we walked in. The stage was filled with a band, and the lights reminded me of the concert I had been at a few weeks earlier.

And again, I was overwhelmed.

Following worship, as the message started, I remember the undeniably strong sense that I was there for a reason. As I looked down my row and saw my friend and the leader, I was overcome with a sense of peace and safety. Then, as our youth pastor introduced me to Jesus, I felt my hand in the air, strong and confident.

My life was forever changed.

As I think back to this night, I can close my eyes and see the lobby and the lights. I can hear the chatter of students and leaders talking over the music. But I also remember the initial feeling of being out of place. I didn’t know where I was supposed to go or who I was supposed to talk to.

And I realize that my brother could easily feel the same way, if not even more over-stimulated. When I walked into Switch that first night, I had visual cues. I could see where people were. I knew when we were moving from the lobby to the auditorium, and then from the front of the stage to our seats. My brother wouldn’t have these non-verbal cues because of his vision—or lack thereof.

My brother was born blind. As a result, his other senses are automatically heightened. So when I think about a Switch experience for him, my heart starts to race because I know he would be just as overwhelmed, if not more, too.

I think about the leader who chose to be with my friend and me on my first night, and I am so grateful an intentional leader like that is available for someone like my brother.

So we’re going to look at this same night, but from the perspective of my brother. And as we go, we’ll look at some of the important things to keep in mind when you’re supporting a blind or visually impaired student. You can also review some of the best practices at the end.

Pre-Experience

There is a lot going on when students start arriving at Switch. There are loud games, music, and groups of students talking with each other. Your student processes their surroundings by listening to the sounds around them. This can quickly be over-stimulating and overwhelming. Here are some things you can do to support them.

Worship and Message

I remember feeling like I was in a mosh pit the first time I experienced worship at Switch. People were standing closer to me, there was jumping and clapping, and it would have been easy for me to lose my friend. This is a great time to build that relationship with your student by staying near them and watching those around them.
Try out some of these tips!

As worship transitions into the message, there’s a rush of students to fill the seats. Guide your student back to rows and help them find a seat. When the message begins, keep the following in mind.

Small Group Discussion

This is a great opportunity to equip your student to be independent in a safe space. Once the message is over, help your student find their small group. Here are some ways you can help your student transition into this portion of the night.

Best Practices

I’m sure you’ve noticed some of the recurring tips as you looked through the experience. Here are some of the main points:

Remember that every student is unique in their preferences and personality. What may work well for one student may not be beneficial for another. It’s always okay to ask your student questions about their preferences so that you’re better able to assist them, while also giving them the freedom to connect with others.

Want to hear directly from my brother? Here’s an interview with him, where he tells peer mentors what they can mean in the life of someone who’s blind or visually impaired.